Sitngo Tournament Strategy

Poker IconOne of the more appealing aspects some people find with US online poker sites is that there are typically many different ways to win. Not only do you have different games from which to choose, such as Texas Hold'em, Omaha, 5 and 7-stud, and often more, but you also have a variety of table varieties. For instance, you can sit in a ring game, which is a fixed-position table with fixed blinds where you play for a set amount; i.e. $5/$10. Then you can jump over to a huge range of tournaments, from freerolls and qualifiers to satellites and weekly specials. Though perhaps the most lucrative tournament in which you can participate, hand for hand, is called a sitngo. This is a tournament that has a fixed buy-in, typically 10 players at a table, and the top 3 finishers are paid. People who can navigate this terrain can typically play a few tournaments a day, if not dozens, and finish in the cash in the majority of them, winning hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Is it really simple enough to sit at a sit 'n go and win money like that? Well, the thing about a sit 'n go tournament is that it's basically a controlled environment. You don't have players moving in and out of the game. The 10 players you start with are the only 10 who play at the table, and you play until one player ends up the winner. This means you don't have to be better than 99% of the field just to get to a final table, as with big-money tournaments or freerolls; you're basically starting on a final table and only have to survive to that final three. Now, the pace of the game is usually dictated by the buy-in amount, and as we'll discuss below your strategy will change based on that amount. But if you can implement a savvy poker strategy in your sit 'n go games, you should be able to pull of a few wins and places in the majority of your entries.

The Concept of a Sit 'N Go Game

The concept of this sort of game is very simplistic on its face. Let's say that you see a buy-in that's $20+$2. This means you're paying a total of $22 to sit in for that tournament, and $20 will go to the pot, while $2 goes to the "rake," which is the house's cut. With 10 players, that's $200. Typically is the case that 1st place will win half of that money, $100, with 2nd place winning 60% of the remaining $100 ($60) and 3rd winning the last 40% ($40). So if you're able to finish in at least 3rd place in one of these fixed-position tournaments, you're basically doubling your money. Be warned, however, that the higher the buy-in, the more fierce the competition is. In this article, we're going to be dealing with strategic moves and principles that should help you well in the $10-$100 range. Once you get past that number, up into the $300s and the like, you're dealing with legitimate online professionals, and all the strategy articles in the world won't matter. Whatever you're willing to read, they've read 10-times that amount of literature. You just have to grind it out and swim with the sharks until you can hunt like the sharks. With these strategies, the aim is to turn you into a shark-like player who can swim around those mid-range sit 'n go tables and ultimately take a bite out of lesser competition.

There's no shame in this. Now, maybe if you were a professional basketball player, it would feel better beating LeBron James than an old guy at the rec center. But when you're playing for money, what does it matter if that old guy can't play as well as LeBron? It's not about your pride; it's about your money. If you want to put your pride on the line, win a dozen of these mid-range sit 'n go games and then try your hand at the high-stakes.

While you're sitting at the table, the only thing that's going to change are the blind levels. They'll typically start at 5/10, increase to 10/20, 20/40, 50/100, and so on. The good thing here is that the blind levels typically take a solid 15 or 20 minutes before changing, so you'll get to see a lot of hands for cheap, which means you can fold a lot of hands with no monetary damage coming by way of being blinded down. This is going to be a big bonus as we dive into the meat of our sit 'n go strategy.

Start as a Scientist

People might have different takes on the exact tenants of the scientific method, but everyone can agree that any hypothesis or theory must start out with solid observation. Observing the world is what science is all about, and this is a principle you want to put in play while you sit down at the table. The poker site at which you're playing will most likely have a feature that allows you to take notes. Hold your mouse over the player's avatar and you will see an option to leave notes. Unless you get a great pocket, like an ace-face, a mid to high pocket pair, or can limp in with something good, fold for a few hands until you can see the dynamics of the table. It won't take long before players start revealing their tendencies. Good players won't let too much information slip out, but you can take notes on who's folding out of position, who's raising in position, who likes limping in, who likes checking, who likes trapping, etc.

Over time, you're going to notice that some players stand out as more aggressive than others. Even in a tournament where someone's spending their last $50 to play, someone always thinks that he or she is Stu Ungar, and this person will always try to control the action by betting and raising. Your overall goal here isn't to blend into the background and to come across as a timid player. You don't want everyone trying to raise you out of every pot you play. You just want to take more of a side seat to the action to start things out. Get a level under your belt where you're only coming into a pot in great position or with a good starting hand. Use the rest of the time to gather information about your opponents. It is going to come in handy pretty quickly.

Slowly Trap a Pest

Let's say that in your note taking on players you notice a player at the table who likes to push the action in hands. You don't want to be bullied, obviously, but you also don't want to reveal too much information about your skill-set by taking him to school too early. Instead, you can sacrifice a few small limps for a big cash. For instance, if you can get in the hand in position or on the cheap, without calling a big raise, go ahead and let the bully think he's bullying you. Check over to him. Unless you have the nuts go ahead and fold. Make him wait until the timer is almost up; bullies hate slow action. Repeat this for a couple hands, letting the timer run low each time. He's going to get increasingly frustrated. When you do have a hand, which the odds suggest you will in time, this is where you drill the bully. Check it over to him, waiting for the timer, just like before. When he throws in his bully bet, instantly hit him back with a re-raise. Don't just slam all-in here. You don't want to tip your hand to the other players at the table; they may be taking notes on you. Re-raise to see his reaction. Likely is the case that he stills thinks he can bully you off the hand, in which case he's going to raise all-in. This is when you call and let the turn and/or river fall where it may. 9 times out of 10 in this situation, the bully ends up having an inferior hand and losing. This puts him on tilt, and he starts pushing chips around. This ends badly for someone, as someone is going to take his challenge, and someone has to win. So whatever the results after you're finished baiting your pest trap, that's one less player to deal with.

Set traps like these on players with any tendencies. Players who check-raise can be trapped by catching them off-guard with a huge lead bet, something that they cannot raise without going all-in. Steady, slow players can be trapped and typically forced to fold on river bets where the hand was checked down on the turn. For any type of opponent you're dealing with, you should be able to set a trap effectively. More than winning one single pot, catching a player off-guard for a huge win typically changes the way they play the game. Once they get short-stacked, the average player goes into panic mode. This is good for you, of course, because it means another player on the brink of busting out.

Transition Into a Bully

If you have gauged the action thus far, played solid poker in position (which is a prerequisite for any of our strategy articles), and have knocked the table bullies down a rung, you should now be looking at only half the field remaining. With five players or so left, the table will begin to tighten up around you. People can sense that money, and they don't want to take any unnecessary risks to cause them to lose their money. Unlike a freeroll, people paid actual cash to enter into this game, so they have more sense than to just let it ride so close to the cash-out. Take advantage of this tight nature and increase the speed of your game a little bit at a go. Start by seeing more flops in position and seeing what you can get in with on the cheap (meaning for the cost of the big blind). If you're in position on the button and it's folded to you, raise those blinds up and make it expensive for them to play in the hand. Don't let them limp in with 8-4 and flop a full boat. Stick them with a cost-of-doing-business raise and make them pay to play. They won't like it; they'll start viewing you as the new table bully; but what are they willing to do about it? To do something about it, they have to enter a hand with you. At this point, you want them folding.

By increasing the speed of your game and playing strong in position, the end result should be amassing another $1,000 or so in blinds. Every blind pot scraped over to you is taking money from another player's pot. So even when they get sick of you and push all-in, they only have $800 to you $6,000 and it's basically just an extra BB to call them down. Pot odds like these cannot be passed out. Even though you're likely to get into races (coin flips) this way, the odds suggest that you win at least half of them. Any one that you win vs. a lower stack means one less player. By transitioning into more of a bully, you are controlling the action so that the table is running through you. You get to see how players react to one another. You get to see how they literally try to bowl over each other, thinking each is weaker than the next, if you don't come into a hand. You're risking little while learning a whole lot by transitioning into this type of player once the herd is thinned. Keep playing solid poker, stay with pot odds, and only risk chips after flops where you have something to fall back on. If you can do these things, you can chip away at a few of the remaining players until they end up having to push in for fear of being blinded out. This should get you to the final three in a good chip position.

Cash and Dash

In the final three, whether a short stack or a big stack, we suggest you play the same type of game. Now, this might seem counter-intuitive on its face, but hear us out. Your natural inclination is to play a tighter game and pick your spots this close to the money, but you have to realize that this is precisely what the two other players are most likely doing. You can disrupt their game entirely, putting them on extreme edge, by becoming an insane aggressor. At this point, the worst you can you do is double your investment, and that's not bad for a half hour's work. Surely $100 is better than $40, but this strategy puts you in a key position to finish 1st or 2nd every time you make it to the top three. For instance, let's say that you have a K-10 suited. This is a decent pocket in any situation, but it's a baby monster three-handed. There are many hands that beat it, like any ace and any pair, but you have straight and flush possibilities, plus two big cards that help you draw well against any mid pair. Don't just raise with this; raise enough to put someone all in, even if you're putting yourself all in. At this point in the tournament the blinds are likely $400/$800, so even players folding to you gives you an extra $1,000 on average each time. And it's not like you're married to an all-in strategy. If the next pocket sucks, and somebody tries to push all-in on you, fold it. This is aggression, not kamikaze suicide.

The ultimate goal here is to pressure your opponents into a horse race, where you will hopefully have a better starting pocket or at least an even-money starting pocket. If the law of averages holds up for you, you should be able to win a couple of these and send opponents out before you.

Could you batten down the hatches and play tight? Sure, you could. But this would result in a slow-paced game where the blinds ended up in the thousands, and then you'd all be forced to push all-in with garbage every single time you failed to win a pot. Starting out in the final three as the aggressor means you control the action and you make other people react to you. This is why it's such a solid style of play to ensure that you finish in at least 2nd place.

Imagine playing 6 sit 'n gos a day and cashing in 4 of them, for an average of $40 per. That's over $150/day in profit, and all you have to do is out-think the table while hopefully avoiding horrible suck-outs of the 5% variety.